It’s hard to replicate one of the nation’s strongest offensive lines.
Last season, Michigan’s unit won the Joe Moore Award and dominated the line of scrimmage in every game leading up to the College Football Playoff.
And, even though the Wolverines brought back three of their five starters from last year — only losing center Andrew Vastardis and tackle Andrew Steuber — the line hasn’t been quite as dominant as last year’s group, albeit in a two game sample size.
Whether the slower start is due to injuries, like the one to graduate tackle Ryan Hayes’, or adding starters such as graduate transfer Olusegun Oluwatimi and senior tackle Trente Jones, who are taking on much larger roles, things haven’t been the same.
But, there is a lot of the season left and with it a lot of time to improve. Michigan has its sight set on a few target areas.
“No pressure, definitely double teams … and like a unit, staying on that chain, not breaking it very often,” Jones said Monday when asked about what the unit can improve upon.
Jones has been one of the sources of early season struggles; he was beaten multiple times on the edge in Michigan’s opening game against Colorado State by edge rusher Mohamed Kamara, giving up pressure after pressure, as well as a sack.
It certainly affected senior quarterback Cade McNamara’s performance as he just didn’t have as much time as he did last year, perhaps a factor in his underwhelming play.
This slower start doesn’t mean that the unit can’t become as strong as last year’s. In fact, some people on the line think it could be even better than last year’s, such as junior guard Zak Zinter.
“We had a great O-line last year, but I think we got a chance to be even better this year,” Zinter said on Aug. 29. “No disrespect to (Vastardis) … but physically (Oluwatimi) is just a step up. He’s got all the attributes that you’d want in a center and I’m really excited to be able to play next to him this year.”
The early season gaps mean that there is a lot of room for improvement. The ceiling — and just how high it is — is yet to be determined. That won’t be known for a few more weeks and probably not until the Wolverines play a defensive front that can compare to them physically.
On Monday, graduate defensive back Gemon Green mentioned that even in the face of lesser opponents, there are still things that can be done and goals to be met. That’s something that can apply to more than just the defense.
“We try to manhandle everyone in front of us so when we get to those (bigger) games it’ll be a breeze,” Green said.
Green understands that even when playing teams that are inferior physically, all they can do is dominate to the best of their abilities. The same reasoning can be used for the offensive line. Even though Michigan’s next opponent is Connecticut — one of the worst teams in the FBS — it’ll serve as an opportunity for the line to work on some of the concerns Jones mentioned. If it can keep the pocket cleaner and impose its will at the line of scrimmage, consistently getting a strong push, that is measurable growth and a showcase of an upward trajectory. Jones said it himself:
“The sky’s the limit.”
And if the Wolverines can reach it’s potential, that will bode well for the rest of the season.